Writer: Ivy Noelle Weir
Publisher: Oni Press
A review by Jameson Hampton
At face value, Archival Quality seemed like a pretty straightforward ghost story – which was already enough to grab my interest! At the heart of the book is Cel, a young girl suffering from anxiety and depression who lost her dream job as a librarian and found new work as an archivist at a creepy medical museum. But what she didn’t realize when she started the job is that the museum was haunted! However, once you really delve into it, Archival Quality is so, so much more than just a ghost story.
First of all, Steenz’s art is excellent, simple but expressive. The colors in particular do a great job of setting an eerie mood for the surreal story that’s to come. The difference in the coloring between the daytime and nighttime scenes is very stark and gives a real sense of the isolation Cel experiences during her long overnight shifts at the museum.
The book radiates a dreamlike atmosphere, playing with the trope where someone accidentally falls into a weird situation and then weird things progress very quickly from there. It’s interesting to watch Cel unknowingly slip deeper and deeper into the weirdness, becoming increasingly normalized to it, no longer questioning things she would have once found unusual and disquieting. The story has its fair share of mysteries as well and I found myself almost hypnotized into turning the pages, trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together.
Thoughtful mental health representation is hard to come by and Cel, who describes her anxiety and depression as ocean waves lapping against a breakwall, is incredibly relatable for any readers who have also struggled with similar issues. Over and over while reading this book, I kept thinking to myself, “Wow, I’m not the only person who has felt this way.” Her lashing out, her complicated feelings about her own anger and her fears of being taken away and relegated to a psych ward are all anxieties I’ve dealt with – and if Cel and I have had similar experiences, I must suspect we are not the only ones.
Every character in this book has a lesson that they learn and subsequently, pass on to readers. Holly, the head librarian at Logan Museum, learns a deeper sense of empathy for others, realizing that if something is important to someone you care about, you don’t have to understand it, you just have to support them. Abayomi, the chief curator, learns the value of opening himself up to others and what can be gained from real emotional connection. Cel herself learns a sense of appreciation for everything she has, especially the ability to seek out the help she needs for her mental health issues. She starts the journey towards seeing herself the way others see her, as someone worthy of empathy, who deserves to be cared for. This can be a tough lesson to learn and it’s inspiring to see Cel realize that there’s no shame in admitting that she needs help.
Empathy is at the core of everything in this book. There is some truly beautiful gentleness depicted between the characters. And it’s beautiful to watch them learn to extend some of that empathy to themselves as well.
Verdict: Read it!
Archival Quality comes out on March 6th – and it pretty much has it all! It has intrigue and mystery. It has a diverse cast of characters, including Samoan, Nigerian and biracial characters, as well as a same sex relationship. It has depictions of mental illness that are thoughtful and artistic, while still being profoundly realistic. And it has a message that nobody is truly alone in their struggles, which for some of us is the most important thing of all.